A CORK historian has revealed that a Bessborough mother-and-baby-home resident is buried under a false name after being denied her true identity even in death.
PhD candidate Maureen Considine, whose research focuses on memory and mourning, made the discovery after unearthing archival documents with the real name of the mother buried in the plot.
The plot in question is located in the St Dominic’s section of St Joseph’s Cemetery in Ballyphehane. A cross identifies the person buried as Doris Walsh, who passed away in 1985.
However, the woman referenced in archival documents is named as Anne Walsh.
Ms Considine explained that many women were given “house names” after entering the residence.
She has been working with Bessborough survivors to seek justice for women they claim were stripped of their identities.
The Mayfield woman, along with survivors she is working with, is calling on Bessborough nuns to replace such headstones and restore the birth names of mothers who passed away at the facility.
She is also calling for unmarked graves to be acknowledged with headstones, in a bid to prevent the whitewashing of history.
“This was something I felt I couldn’t ignore,” said Ms Considine.
“Restoring these women’s real names is asking so little. If a gesture like this can’t be honoured, we have to ask ourselves how far we’ve really come in our treatment of women and girls.
“We are still at a point where women are having negative experiences in maternity care. We have to deal with our past in order to be able to live free lives.”
She recalled being horrified by stories of women whose names had been taken from them.
“I was about 12 years old when I first started hearing about what women who attended mother and baby homes and industrial schools had gone through,” she said.
“My mum had a woman over to the house one day, who was watching her fold laundry. She asked her how she could tell which item of clothing belonged to each child.
“My mother explained that she knew by the style and colours. That was when the woman explained that she and other children had numbers stitched into their clothing while in an industrial school. Back then they weren’t even referred to by their names, but simply a number.”
She says the pain suffered by women in these institutions will always run deep.
“It’s difficult to know how to mark graves like this,” she said.
“Some were so shamed that they didn’t have the language for rape. Instead, they were told that they were ‘carrying on with boys’. If we can’t even honour these women in death, then you have to wonder what has really been achieved.”
Ms Considine said she fears that there are many other women whose names have been changed, making it difficult for their children to trace them.
“There are a lot of Traveller women affected by this,” she said.
“A lot of Travellers say that when you say someone’s name out loud you are giving them their dignity back. Just by naming women like Anne, we are giving this woman the dignity she deserves. Judging by the cross she was given, there’s a good chance that this woman was liked, yet she still wasn’t granted the dignity of her real name.”
Former Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Marion O’Sullivan, from Knocknaheeny, who was sent to a mother and baby home in Dublin while pregnant in the 1970s, described the practice of changing women’s names in mother and baby homes as “disgraceful”.
“Why should someone have the power to take away someone’s identity?” Ms O’Sullivan asked.
“What was the reason for all this secrecy? I am not sure how this could have happened when there is a legal process to go through. They weren’t protecting their anonymity — they were taking their identities away.
“This was a sad time in history that left women completely broken in mind and spirit. Giving this woman her name back would be a mark of respect, when nobody had the right to take it away in the first place.”
A spokesperson for the parks and cemeteries division of Cork City Council who assisted Ms Considine with her research confirmed that Ms Walsh was buried in plot 192 in 1985.
In response to a query submitted by The Echo, he said: “Our records confirm the following; Ann Walsh died 23/01/1985. She was buried on 24/01/1985 in St Dominick’s, Plot 192, the registered owner being the Bessboro Order.
“Cork City Council Cemeteries Division very much welcomes Maureen Considine’s research and has cooperated with her fully, as it has with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, in the hope that it can bring comfort to those who are affected by the pain of events which happened in the past.”
Michael O’Sullivan, who works as a supervisor at St Joseph’s Cemetery, also confirmed that he had been co-operating with Ms Considine in relation to her research.
When contacted by The Echo in relation to this article, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who managed the home in Bessborough, said: “We have been dealing directly with the commission on all matters relating to mother and baby homes and we now await publication of the report.
“All records related to mother and baby homes were passed to the HSE/Tusla in 2010.”